Having concluded his prefatory address, the Apostle now announces, in brief but comprehensive terms, the grand subject which occupies the first five chapters of this Epistle, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith.
V. 16.—For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
I am not ashamed.—Paul here follows up what he had just said of his readiness to preach the gospel at Rome, by declaring that he was not ashamed of it. This would also convey a caution to those whom he addressed against giving way to a Strong temptation to which they were exposed, and which was no doubt a means of deterring many from embracing the gospel to whom it was preached. He knew from personal experience the opposition which the gospel everywhere encountered. By the Pagans it was branded as Atheism; and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness ; while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Saviour was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness. This doctrine was everywhere spoken against, and the Christian fortitude of the Apostle, in acting on the avowal he here makes, was as truly manifested in the calmness with which he viewed the disdain of the philosophers, the contempt of the proud, and the ridicule of the multitude, as in the steadfast resolution with which, for the name of the Lord Jesus, he confronted personal danger, and even death itself. His courage was not more conspicuous when he was ready " not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem," than when he was enabled to enter Athens or Rome without being moved by the prospect of all that scorn and derision which in these great cities awaited him.
But the grand reason which induced the Apostle to declare at the outset of this Epistle that he was not ashamed of the gospel, is a reason which applies to every age as well as to that in which Christ was first preached. His declaration implies that while in reality there is no just cause to be ashamed of the gospel, there is in it something which is not acceptable, and that it is generally hated and despised among men. ' The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God ; for they are foolishness unto him. They run counter to his most fondly cherished notions of independence ; they abase in the dust all the pride of his self-reliance, and stripping him of every ground of boasting, and demanding implicit submission, they awaken all the enmity of the carnal mind. Even they who have tasted of the grace of God, are liable to experience and often to yield to the deeply rooted and sinful feeling of being ashamed of the things of God. So prevalent is this even among Christians the most advanced, that Paul deemed it necessary to warn Timothy respecting it, whose faithfulness he so highly celebrates. " Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our v Lord." In connection with this he makes the same avowal for himself as in the passage before us, declaring at the same time the strong ground on which he rested, and was enabled to resist this temptation. Whereunto he says, " I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For which cause I also suffer these things : nevertheless I am not ashamed ; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." At the same time he commends Onesiphorus for not being ashamed of his chain, 2 Tim. i., 8, 12, 16. And He who knew what is in man, solemnly and repeatedly guarded his disciples against this criminal shame, enforcing his admonitions by the most awful sanction. " For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of his holy angels."
That system, in which there is nothing of " foolishness " in the eyes of this world's wisdom, cannot be the gospel of which Paul deemed it necessary to affirm that he was not ashamed. No other religion is so offensive to the pride of man ; no other system awakens shame in the breasts of its votaries; and yet every false doctrine has in it more or less of what is positively absurd, irrational, and disgraceful. It is also observable, that the more the gospel is corrupted, and the more its peculiar features are obscured by error, the less do we observe of the shame it is calculated to produce. It is, in fact, the fear of opposition and contempt that often leads to the corruption of the gospel. But this peculiarity affords a strong proof of the truth of the Apostle's doctrine. Had he not been convinced of its truth, would it not have been madness to invent a forgery in a form which excites the natural prejudices of mankind ? Why should he forge a doctrine which he was aware would be hateful to the world ? In this declaration Paul may also have had reference to the false mysteries of the Pagans, which they carefully concealed, because they contained many things that were infamous, and of which they were justly ashamed. When the Apostle says, he is not ashamed of the gospel, it further implies that he gloried in it, as he says, Gal. vi., 14, " God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ;" and thus he endeavors to enhance, in the eyes of those to whom he wrote, the value and excellence of the gospel, in order more fully to arrest their attention before he entered on his subject.
The Gospel of Christ.—A little before, he had called it " the gospel of God ;" he now designates it the gospel of Christ, who is not only its author, but also its essential subject. The gospel is, therefore, called the preaching of Jesus Christ, and of the unsearchable riches of Christ. This gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the gospel of God concerning his Son. The term gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah iii., 7, and Ixi., 1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, "The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings."
For it is the power of God unto salvation.—Here the Apostle gives the reason why he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. The gospel is the great and admirable mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, had been hid in God, into which the angels desire to look, whereby his manifold wisdom is made known unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places. It is the efficacious means by which God saves men from sin and misery, and bestows on them eternal life —the instrument by which he triumphs in their hearts, and destroys in them the dominion of Satan. The gospel,,which is the word of God, is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword ; by it, as the word of truth, men are begotten by the will of God, James i.,18, 1 Peter i., 23; and through the faith of the gospel they are kept by his power unto salvation, 1 Peter i., 5. The exceeding greatness of the power of God exerted in the gospel toward those who believe, is compared to his mighty power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, Eph. i.,19. Thus, while the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, to those who are saved it is the power of God.
The gospel is power in the hand of God as opposed to our natural impotence and utter inability to obtain salvation by anything we can do, Rom. v., 6, and also in opposition to the law which cannot save, being " weak through the flesh," Rom. viii., 3. It has been observed that the article the before power is not in the original. The article, however, is not necessary. The Apostle does not mean power as an attribute, for the gospel is no attribute of God. It is power, as it is the means which God employs to accomplish a certain end. When it is said the gospel is God's power unto salvation, all other means of salvation are excluded.
To every one that believeth.—This power of God unto salvation is applied through faith, without which God will neither justify nor save any man, because it is the appointed means of his people's union with Jesus Christ. Faith accepts the promise of God. Faith embraces the satisfaction and merit of Jesus Christ, which are the foundation of salvation ; and neither that satisfaction nor that merit would be imputed, were it not rendered ours by faith. Finally, by faith we give ourselves to Jesus Christ, in order that he may possess and conduct us for ever. When God justifies he gives grace, but it is always in maintaining the rights of his majesty, in making us submit to his law, and to the direction of his holiness, that Jesus Christ may reign in our hearts. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one without any distinction of age, sex, or condition, of birth or of country, without excepting any one, provided he be a believer in Christ. The expression, "every one," respects the extent of the call of the gospel, in opposition to that of the law, which was addressed to the single family of Abraham.
To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.—This distinction includes all nations, for the Jews were accustomed to comprehend under the name of Greek all the rest of the world, as opposed to their own nation. The Greeks, from the establishment of the Macedonian empire, were better known to the Jews than any other people, not only on account of their power, but likewise of their knowledge and civilisation. Paul frequently avails himself of this distinction.
To the Jew first.—From the days of Abraham, their great progenitor, the Jews had been highly distinguished from all the rest of the world by their many and great privileges. It was their high distinction that of them Christ came, "who is overall, God blessed forever." They were thus, as his kinsmen, the royal family of the human race, in this respect higher than all others, and they inherited Emmanuel's land. While, therefore, the evangelical covenant, and consequently justification and salvation, equally regarded all believers, the Jews held the first rank, as the ancient people of God, while the other nations were strangers from the covenants of promise. The preaching of the gospel, was to be addressed to them first, and at the beginning to them alone, Matt. x., 6 ; for, during the abode of Jesus Christ upon earth, he was the minister only of the circumcision, chap, xv., 8. " I am not sent," he says, " but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and he commanded that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, " beginning at Jerusalem." Acts iii., 26 ; xiv., 26. Thus, while Jews and Gentiles were united in the participation of the gospel, the Jews were not deprived of their rank, since they were the first called.
The preaching of the gospel to the Jews, first, served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, as Isa. ii., 3. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed his blood, to whom, after his resurrection, he commanded his gospel to be first proclaimed. It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners, and proved the sovereign efficacy of his atonement in expiating the guilt even of his murderers. It was fit, too, that the gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded and established ; and this furnished an example of the way in which it is the will of the Lord that his gospel should be propagated by his disciples, beginning in their own houses and their own country.
Taken from Volume one of Haldane's Exposition of The Epistle to the Romans, first published in Great Britain in 1835. The commentary is available in our day in several complete editions.